Archive for the 'running' Category

Snow day

It snowed yesterday evening through the wee hours this morning and, though there can’t be more than 3 inches on the ground, it wreaked havoc on life as we know it in Madrid. Result? Esperanza Aguirre, beloved president of the Comunidad de Madrid, canceled school.

When I went to bed last night and the snow was still falling and sticking I guessed something like this would have to happen. The Monday before winter break was also a snowy mess, but I had a second period substitution and slogged my way into school only to spend the morning entertaining the kids with games and a movie before they sent everyone (well, the few of us there) home. It hadn’t seemed like much snow that time, and was actually quite a slushy mess because it started to rain, but Madrid is completely unprepared for situations like this. I didn’t see a single plow or salt truck that day.

This time I was prepared for Madrid’s utter un-preparedness and, since I normally go in a bit later on Mondays, texted a coworker upon waking up. She said she’d gotten into school without a problem, so, disappointed but carrying on with my routine, I laced up my running shoes and went for a run in relative snowy solitude in the Retiro (gorgeous in white).

By chance I glanced at my email before hopping into the shower and saw a friend had mentioned that school was canceled in much of Madrid. I checked my school email and, indeed, class had been canceled today, though the facility was open to take care of the kids that did make it. I called my direct boss who told me that there were plenty of teachers there and they would all go home at lunch time anyway—no need for me to go in.

So I joined the hordes of camera-armed, hiking boot-clad unusually smiley madrileños and headed to the Retiro.

A marathon encounter


Among the wave of brightly-clad runners heading downhill in Parque del Oeste, a diminutive black man wrapped in a gold foil blanket sitting on the curb caught my attention. He resembled the gazelle-like runners, thin as reeds, who’d passed my balcony before any other runners this morning. I was out on my own run, no number pinned to my shirtfront, but I attempted to run a little with the marathoners and cheer them on. They were only halfway and had been running well over two hours. Then I approached the man on the curb.

“Are you hurt?” I asked him in English, guessing he would speak my native tongue rather than Spanish. He looked at me somewhat distrustfully.

“No. I am the pacemaker.”

“Ah. So you just run half and then stop?”


“And how long did it take you?”

“One hour and ten minutes.”

“Where are you from?”



“Yes. Have you been to Kenya?”

“No, but my sister has. She lived near Nairobi for a year.”

“Are you coming to Kenya?”

“I don’t know. It’s an expensive ticket.”

“Are you going to finish the marathon?”

“No, I’m not running the marathon. I’m going home.”

“Where do you live?”

I signaled up the hill.

“Where is the main town?”

“Near here,” and I pointed up the hill again.

“Can I have your phone number?”


“To communicate with you. We are friends.”

I looked at the crinkly blanket. The timing chip on his Nike running shoes. He looked so small on the curb with his knees pulled up.

“You’re not going to remember it. How long are you here?”

“One month.”

We exchanged names, he asked about my job, and repeatedly asked for my phone number. The runners going by rapidly decreased in numbers. A cop in a neon yellow reflective vest eyed us questioningly. Up the hill, breakfast and a shower awaited. I shook Eric’s hand, bid him good luck, and headed up the hill.

La Melonera y LNEB

Yesterday I participated in two madrileño events for the first time. At 18.30 there was the race of La Melonera. “La Melonera” is the name for the fiestas in one of Madrid’s southern neighborhoods (Arganzuela, basically south of Embajadores) and every year they hold a race in celebration of said fiestas. The race is sponsored by Hipercor and the Corte Inglés, and there were several things I really liked about it. Sign-up is completely free and they don’t limit the number of runners (the latter can be good or bad), and at the end we were given a really nice t-shirt depicting people running with melons AND, most importantly, a big hunk of sweet, juicy Spanish piel de sapo melon. What a treat! The course, just over 10 km, was pleasant, and at nearly all points there were crowds of people cheering us on. As with nearly all Spanish races I’ve run, I was disappointed that when we finished we had to wait quite a while to get water, something completely unheard of in the NYRR races I used to run where the finish was lined with tables full of cups of water.

After the race we all headed home to shower and then reconvened for La Noche en Blanco, Madrid’s night of free art and spectacles. To be honest, we didn’t see much (there were lines for many things), but we were not impressed. The real highlight for me was seeing the center of Madrid (C/ Alcalá and the Paseo del Prado) completely without automobile traffic. The low point was certainly waiting a good long time (in what was quite a chilly night for September!) for a tight-rope walker who was supposed to cross Calle Alcalá between the Círculo de Bellas Artes and the Instituto Cervantes. But the wind prevented the completion of this act. And so, legs weary from running and standing, we retired to the bars.

Thanks to Noelia for shooting the photo of the race.

Marathon Sunday

This morning I awoke not to a cacophony of car horns, or the incessant buzz of a jackhammer, or people shouting (errr, talking) to each other in the street, but to the Chariots of Fire instrumental theme looped over and over. It took my sleep-addled brain several minutes to remember why, and then I quickly put on my glasses and joined my roommates on the balcony to watch the runners in the 31st Maratón de Madrid make their way down our street. The runners streamed by, buoyed by the downhill stretch and the still cool morning. They chatted, ate bananas, or stopped to use the facilities (or should I say walls) of the alley below our flat. And then I went back to bed, lulled to sleep by Chariots of Fire.

Mother’s Day

Today is Día de la Madre in Spain, in honor of which a couple of friends and I ran in the Carrera de la Mujer, a race for only women that raises money for cancer. Think Race for the Cure, Spanish style. The race shirts were orange, and the line to get water at the end was outrageously long. But even if it was less a race than a human obstacle course, tons of women came out for it. More than 12,000, in fact. It made me so happy to see so many Spanish women out exercising on a beautiful Sunday morning, that I’ll ignore the fact that I had to wait half an hour to get water after I finished. To top it all off, the race bag came with an awesome amount of stuff (including another t-shirt, a towel, a Comunidad de Madrid Buff, and magazines ranging from Cosmo to Runner’s World).

Easy like Sunday morning

The deluge is over. Madrid is back to its normal sunny self, at least for the time being. The weekend has been gorgeous and the Madrileños are out in full force, doing what they love best: getting dressed and having a drink at one of the hundreds of terrazas in the city. Families with hordes of children dressed in the cutest Spanish kids’ clothes, couples young and old, singles with a dog or a book or a paper. They’re having a beer or a clara or a café con leche, accompanied by the ubquitous plate of patatas fritas. It’s Sunday–what else is there to do?

On Sundays, Spain virtually shuts down. Generally the only businesses open are bars and restaurants, bakeries, and pharmacies. You can find convenience stores open in the big cities. So, what to do? Eat and drink, of course. Sit in a bar or a terraza, people watching, being social. Pasear with your new baby in his 800-euro stroller, stopping every hundred meters or so when someone wants to ogle your adorable addition to the world. Play tennis, go running, clean the house, do laundry. More or less typical weekend things, with a Spanish flair.

I spent Sunday morning running a race–the second annual Retiro District 10K. I did it last year, too, but under notably different circumstances. I’d been unable to sign-up because they’d capped it at 2,000 runners. But out in a bar the night before the race a friend suggested that what the hell? We’d run it anyway, just without numbers. And we did, after sleeping about four hours. Well, this year I made sure to sign up early and go to bed at a reasonable hour. No biggie that I signed up, though. I arrived to pick up my timing chip on race day, and they apologetically informed us that the chips for race numbers 1300 and up had been stolen. Huh? Yes, it’s true. So we ran without chips and lined up after finishing to report our times to a woman with pen and paper. No problem.

My main problem with races here is post-race. Maybe I got spoiled running all those New York Road Runner races in Central Park, which run like clockwork and dependably feature huge tables of water and some sort of food just after crossing the finish line. Lamentably, at none of the four races I’ve run here has food played a role for we poor hungry runners. But on several occasions you could cross the finish and drink a Coke right away! You had to wait in a long line for your goodie bag with one puny bottle of water. When I cross the finish, I want to gulp down several cups of water in quick sucession. I don’t want a Coke, or a Nestea, or whatever sugary drink is sponsoring the race. And I definitely don’t want to wait fifteen minutes in line to get the tiny bit of water that’s in my race bag. Why does Coca-Cola sponsor the races I’ve run in Madrid? Where are the bananas, apples, and bagels for chrissake!?

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